The Electronic Smithsonian

Smithsonian Institution website launch with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Peter House, chieIt was an event so big that it was held on Capitol Hill and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich joined Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman in launching it.

"Smithsonian Enters Cyberspace with Information-Packed World-Wide Web Home Page" announced the press release.

Smithsonian Institution website launch with Peter House, chief analyst and director of the Policy ReTomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the Smithsonian's first "internet 'web' site" on May 8, 1995. The web site included more than 1,500 pages and overviews of the site were available in Spanish, German, and French. In addition to text and graphics, the pages also included images, audio, and video. Peter House, the National Science Foundation staff member who was detailed to the Smithsonian for the technical development of the website, considered the site to be very large at the time.

The Smithsonian Home Page was designed to allow users to visit the Smithsonian in much the same way as they would in person. Users can begin by viewing general information pages, just as many visitors begin with the information center in the Castle, or they can go directly to page for an individual museum. Many of the Smithsonian's museums and other facilities established home pages at the same time.

Home Page of the First Smithsonian Website, Accession 98-094: Office of the Secretary, Smithsonian WA sneak preview of "Ocean Planet On-Line" was available several weeks ahead of the Smithsonian Home Page. It was demonstrated during the press preview of the "Ocean Planet" exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, held April 20, 1995. The website was a joint project of the Smithsonian's Environmental Awareness Program and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Gene Feldman, an oceanographer at the Goddard Space Flight Center and creator of the online exhibition, described the site as "one of the most comprehensive and advanced exhibitions available through the Internet via the World Wide Web." He believed it had "capabilities that will amaze even the tekkies." Although hosted on a NASA server, "Ocean Planet On-Line" was considered to be a component of the larger Smithsonian website. It still exists today in close to its original form.

The Smithsonian Home Page included multimedia messages from the Secretary, general information, frequently asked questions (known as "Encyclopedia Smithsonian"), press releases, museum highlights, online exhibitions, virtual museum tours, a staff directory, and the "electronic Shopping Mall." The "Perspectives" section of the site allowed users to search for specific topics across the entire website. Many of these features still exist, in an updated form, in the current Smithsonian website.

In the first 24 hours after the home page was launched, it received approximately 100,000 hits, some as far away as Japan. By May 17, 9 days after the launch, there had been over 600,000 hits.

Secretary Heyman noted that "James Smithson's goal of the 'increase and diffusion of knowledge' has been reborn for a new century."

According to House, "The Smithsonian has been waiting 150 years for the Internet. What we do here is perfect for it."

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